Lend us your ears

We’ve sorted through our carefully alphabetized cd library and plucked from it the 50 best albums of 2005. all hail the year of indie rock, cerebral pop and kanye.

Tori Amos The Beekeeper (Epic)Amos’s first album of original material since 2002’s epic Scarlet’s Walk is a return to the ballad-based times of Under the Pink, with a gospel choir and Damien Rice thrown in for new colour. A political bent pokes its way through the (overlong) narrative, most bizarrely and beautifully in the Rice duet, “The Power of Orange Knickers,” where Amos asks, plainly for once, “Who is this terrorist?” TT

Lou Barlow EMOH (Merge)With the success and attention rightly given to artists like Conor Oberst, it was serendipitous timing for Barlow to release the solo album of his career. Although EMOH could be considered somewhat of a comeback (the last few Sebadoh and Folk Implosion albums pale in comparison), this should really be viewed as a re-affirmation of his reign as the king of the heartfelt bedroom recordings. DH

Beck Guero (Geffen)After the oddity of Midnite Vultures and the depression of Sea Change, Beck has finally found his groove again, releasing his best album since Odelay. Critics and fans alike can agree that the funkiness and cool oozes from Beck’s folk-infused art-rock. TS

Brendan Benson The Alternative to Love (V2)Packed end-to-end with driving power pop of all shapes and sizes, not to mention one of the year’s best singles “Spit it Out,” Benson mixes Big Star, The Move and Cheap Trick with an ounce of Westerberg. This is essential listening for the future of indie pop. TM

Bloc Party Silent Alarm (Vice)These South Londoners have developed, and earned, some serious buzz from Silent Alarm. The party album to end all party albums, there’s not a bad song in the collection. Keep in mind: While the slew of complex guitar riffs might catch your ear, the bass and drums are where it’s at. JB

Bright Eyes I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning (Saddle Creek)The precocious, lisping boy wonder Conor Oberst—he can pretend “Bright Eyes” is a band of people, but please—makes good on his promise with this rousing country-rock record. (Companion electronica album Digital Ash in a Digital Urn is for patient fans only.) A quiet duet with Emmylou Harris and rollicking closer “Road to Joy”—“Let’s fuck it up boys, make some noise!”—best demonstrate Oberst’s ability to both lull and stun. TT

Burdocks What We Do is Secret (Black Mountain)While their 2003 smash Airplane Tracks was a pop masterpiece and half of the band branched off to follow it up with Dog Day’s Thank You EP, What We Do is Secret is a masterful step in a faster and darker direction. Primal, yet refined at the same time, this band just keeps getting better. JB

Kate Bush Aerial (SonyBMG) It has been such a long wait, but Bush returns with a gloriously textured art-rock tour de force that recalls everything before The Sensual World. This is a double disc set of straightforward Bush, rather than another devoted to an entire suite. Majestic and surreal. TM

Caribou The Milk of Human Kindness (Leaf) Forced to change his name this year, the former Manitoba remained positive releasing some electronic pop that is fully flesh and blood. It moves from infectious beats to pop that would make Brian Wilson smile. Caribou even brings in some dirgy ’70s mullet-guitar rock samples. This recording is the work of a passionate music archivist. CM

Castle Project Diaries of a Broken Heart (White Whale)Culled from diary entries written after his wife left him, Diaries of a Broken Heart is anything but your typical collection of love-gone-wrong songs—it is the ultimate I-am-shattered break-up album. Its ache and despair is so palpable that Diaries is almost too uncomfortable to bear. Unless, that is, you find comfort in a kindred spirit. DH

Code Pie This Habit (Flagless) Unsung Montreal band. Sure you’ve heard of the meteoric Arcade Fire and the fast-on-their-heels Wolf Parade but what of Code Pie? Anthemic pop muddle rock that warms the heart. Code Pie bathes us in that same Montreal everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sound that has swept the nation but features indie trumpet to sweeten their pot. CM

Contrived Dead Air Verbatim (Dependent)Contrived has always been pretty handy with the monster riff, but the band never had a recording that captured its intense energy until now. Dead Air Verbatim showcases the quartet at its most creative musically and sonically, with ferocious performances and a batch of songs as catchy as they are heavy. CT

Dane Cook Retaliation (Comedy Central)Set in front of a rowdy, appreciative audience, Dane Cook’s double disc is the Frampton Comes Alive of comedy albums. Cook’s young, everyman style of performance is infectious, and the laughs he generates with his sophomoric storytelling and observational humour are huge. The end result is one of the funniest albums you’ll ever hear, times two. CT

Corb Lund Band Hair in My Eyes Like a Highland Steer (Stony Plain)Embodying rural life in myriad of tempos and attitudes, Lund enriches country music at every turn. Marauding cougars, the joy of cards, folk wisdom: His touch with a broad range of topics is disarming. You’ll wish you were helping him haul a truck out of the prairie mud, just to be able to joke about it later. DT

Danger Doom The Mouse and the Mask (Epitaph)In a genre where sex, money and violence are prevalent topics, MF Doom and Danger Mouse have convened to make an album that features a talking milkshake and a song about piss so good it would make The Hidden Cameras jealous. The Mouse and the Mask is the most fun hip-hop has been in a long time. MC

Death Cab for Cutie Plans (Atlantic)Death Cab releases its first album for an evil, corporate major label and…nothing happens! Except a top 10 record! Nice fear-mongering, indie tools! Sonically nothing has changed, lyrically Ben Gibbard appears to be exploring his spirituality. Beautiful songs abound as always, especially the epic piano-driven ballad “What Sarah Said” and opener “Marching Bands of Manhattan.” TT

Dog Day Thank You (Out of Touch)Pop-rock hasn’t been this hot in years. Almost unbearably captivating, Thank You’s 20 minutes contain a handful of addictively simple, straightforward gems. Completely lo-fi and unfortunately short, this debut by the half-Burdocks, half-Hold hybrid is, hands down, the best local album of the year. JB

Editors The Back Room (Kitchenware)As creepy as a German impressionist movie, as icy as Joy Division, and even better than Interpol, Editors hit the mark with one of the best releases from across the pond in 2005. While other Brit bands catch the Franz dance-rock wave or the shambolic post-Libertines drug phase, songs like “Blood,” “Munich” and “Bullets” keep it emotionally real. JF

Kathleen Edwards Back to Me (Rounder)The pride of Wakefield, PQ, (and Matt Mays duet partner) maintains her well-deserved buzz with a mature, slightly less country update on Failer. Where that debut stewed in beer-soaked anger, Back to Me is more wistful and nostalgic, as Edwards practically apologizes for her success. An astute songwriter, she says much with little (“This is your life/I get copied keys”). TT

Eels Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (Vagrant)Recent deaths in the family of Mark Oliver Everett, or E, have shaded his music before, but never so deeply. Worry about his mental state, only to be rescued as he uses rage to intensify elation at being alive. The disc nimbly dodges being depressing or corny through a steady application of gorgeous melodies. DT

Fantomas Suspended Animation (Ipecac)Fans of musical acrobatics will not be disappointed in Fantomas’ latest disc. A 30-track assault of cartoon soundtracks, odd melodic passages, rhythmic bursts of noise and math-metal insanity, Suspended Animation is another wonderfully weird addition to the band’s dissonant discography. Bonus points for the stellar calendar case—easily the year’s best album artwork. CT

Franz Ferdinand You Could Have It So Much Better (Domino)While the new new wavers unleashed their monster post-punk debut slightly more than a year ago, they’ve managed to defeat the sophomore curse and to avoid outstaying their welcome with another stellar album. Not just your average dance rock band, these innovative Scots really know how to keep it fresh. JB

The Go! Team Thunder Lightning Strike (Sony)The Go! Team mixes hip-hop, schoolyard rhymes, ’70s soul, Britpop and much more, creating something entirely original and as exciting as the exclamation point in the band’s name. An intensely fun record, the energy doesn’t let up one bit. Check out “Ladyflash,” “Junior Kickstart” and “Bottle Rocket” for proof. Go! now. JF

Jenn Grant and Goodbye20th Century Jenn Grant and Goodbye 20th Century EP (independent)What a tease! Six tracks to entice us with no hint of her return, Halifax’s Jenn Grant grabs the torch from other Atlantic singer-songwriters and makes it burn as bright as her auburn hair. This is melody, plain and simple. And it is gorgeous. Although we’ll have to wait while she tours with The Heavy Blinkers, tracks like “The Last Waltz” make it worth it. JF

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings Naturally (Daptone)Naturally is too authentic to be called “neo-soul,” too big a jolt to be labeled “purist.” Jones’s emergence from decades of obscurity, backed by smoky drums, horny horns and plucky strings, will restore faith in second chances. “Stranded in Your Love,” with Lee Fields, may be the sharpest skit within a song you’ll hear. DT

Alex Keleher Elusive Recluse (independent)Sparsely recorded with a couple of acoustic guitars and a handful of vocals, Elusive Recluse is a testament to the strength of Alex Keleher’s songwriting. Recluse’s disturbingly compelling lyrics, layered harmonies and shape-shifting rhythms channel the spirit of master arrangers Brian Wilson and Syd Barrett, yet thrive in their lo-fi environment. If Keleher ever records with a full band, look out. CT

Ben Lee Awake is the New Sleep (New West)You would think that after Claire Danes left him, Aussie boy-wonder Ben Lee would return with an angst-ridden tearjerker full of songs like “How to Mend a Broken Heart.” But he found Zen Buddhism instead. And his inner peace and acceptance is both refreshing and inspirational. Lee’s comfort with the world has also translated into his finest collection of songs in years. DH

Magnolia Electric Company What Comes After the Blues (Secretly Canadian)Magnolia Electric Company is the heartfelt piece of Americana that has been eluding Ryan Adams since the promise of his Heartbreaker album was washed away in a wave of hype, hair products and alcohol. Revealing a true understanding of the Americana songwriting tradition, frontman Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia) turns in some of his best work yet. MC

Lori McKenna Bittertown (True North)Could this be New England’s answer to Lucinda Williams? If family life delayed McKenna’s blossoming, a willingness to lay it all out seriously stokes her songs. Pinched old-timey vocals give her battles and worries an eternal quality. With such a crack band, tales of small-town decay become starkly compelling. DT

Mercury Rev The Secret Migration (V2)Always playing the Megadeth to The Flaming Lips’ Metallica, Mercury Rev has never truly gotten the respect it deserves. This has never proved more unfortunate than on The Secret Migration. The album’s swirling intensity grows out of a lush sonic backdrop that is anchored by some of the best songs the group has ever written. MC

Metric Live it Out (Last Gang)Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? may have had catchier singles, but Live it Out might be the best record produced this year by any of the Broken Social Scene family. Emily Haines and company nail their synth-rock sound with punchier guitars, brighter keyboard flourishes and poignant lyrics as on “Poster of a Girl” and first single “Monster Hospital.” JF

The New Pornographers Twin Cinema (Mint) The genius and craft of songwriting that has been gifted to Carl Newman remains fully intact on this latest release by supergroup The New Pornographers. It is with shock and awe that we have yet to hear this troupe fully take the charts by storm. It is infectious, multi-layered and sure to become a classic. CM

Nine Inch Nails With Teeth (Nothing/Interscope)Uh oh, Trent’s pissed off again. Granted, when our little tortured soul is unhappy, it means we’re in for a kickass piece of industrial metal. With his angry rhetorical lyrics and raging, blistering beats, With Teeth is definitely Reznor’s best material since NIN’s breakthrough classic, 1994’s The Downward Spiral. JB

P:ano Brigadoon (Mint) Like the right and left brain of some twee-pop genius, Brigadoon is a circus freak-like gem of a CD. Strange, uncomfortable, self-conscious and joyous, this release is above all else honest, which is what makes it truly great. This is a discovery to be cherished and slowly explored, like a box of chocolates. CM

Joel Plaskett La De Da (Maple)Something happened on Joel Plaskett’s journey to Arizona to record La De Da. Maybe he sold his soul to the proverbial devil at some abandoned crossroad in the rural south. Who knows. But his guitar-playing and arrangements speak of a new-found virtuosity and confidence. Which was also abundant in spades at the Cohn performance in May. Best Canadian release of the year? You bet. And watch for “Love this Town” to replace “Barrett’s Privateers” as the sing-along pub anthem. DH

Port City Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do (independent)A eulogy to both a band collapse and a failed relationship, Breakin’ Up is Hard to Do is a surprisingly uplifting blast of lo-fi sugar pop. Aside from the heart-wrenching “Fingers and Hands,” the disc is full of sunny hooks that belie the dreary subject matter. Maybe they should have called it Breakin’ Up is Not As Fun As It Sounds. CT

Justin Rutledge No Never Alone (Six Shooter)This is tossed-out-drunk, so-sad-I-got-a-stomachache, welled-up-tears music, best served with a shot of whiskey and a slap on the back. Mary Margaret O’Hara’s haunting voice helps administer the medicine. Rutledge suggests it is the passions of love and loss that drive us into the sunset. CM

Shout Out Louds Howl Howl Gaff Gaff (Capitol)Just simply put, a great pop record that utilizes ’60s pop mixed with ’80s and ’90s indie pop. A bit of new wave injected with garage rock and Brian Wilson’s chamber opuses. Shout Out Louds write some of the best and most original pop of the year. TM

Sigur Ros Takk (Geffen)Sigur Ros almost isn’t worth describing. Their music hits on a visceral level that makes it more of an experience than a series of notes and beats. Takk, their self-proclaimed “rock record,” continues in this tradition. With stripped-down lows and crashing heights, it’s epic and wonderful. MC

Sleater-Kinney The Woods (Sub Pop)In a word: LOUD. The women of S-K always hinted at the fury in their music, but it wasn’t until Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann was brought on board that the trio’s sound turned up to 11. Embracing longer songs, guitar solos and the classic-rock attitude of Grace Slick, The Woods is powerful, raw and captivating. JF

Bruce Springsteen Devils and Dust (SonyBMG)Forget The Rising—this is the Springsteen record fans have been waiting for since the mid-’80s. An equal mix of Nebraska and Tom Joad, Devils and Dust shows a reflective Springsteen dealing with his demons and creating the masterpiece fans knew he still had in him. TM

Sufjan Stevens Illinoise (Asthmatic Kitty)Illinoise is not an album to be listened to in pieces. It’s an historical document, revealing a state that’s more than the Sears Tower, wind and the Cubs. Almost ridiculously lush—start counting instruments now—and gorgeously performed, the young Stevens could be the next great hope, or the next Brian Wilson. TT

Susie Arioli Band featuring Jordan Officer Learn to Smile Again (Justin Time)With the rising success of the Susie Arioli Band, it is refreshing to see this Montreal jazz combo has not succumbed to the temptation to be pop stars. Instead, for their fourth and finest release yet—Ariloi’s voice and Officer’s fluid and effortless guitar work sound stronger and more confident than ever—the band has shunned standard repertoire for even more obscure songs by Roger Miller, Naomi Neville and Jimmy Webb. DH

System of a Down Mezmerize/ Hypnotize (America)Easily their most ambitious project to date, SOAD decided to pull a Tarantino and sever their two-disc set into Mezmerize and Hypnotize, released six months apart. The ferocity contained within these two discs simmers with social and political commentary, as seductive as it is savage. TS

Two Hours Traffic Two Hours Traffic (independent)The youthful Prince Edward Island quartet drops more hooks than a pirate party, using guitars as percussion you might hum, not unlike the La’s. Producer Joel Plaskett keeps things crisp and throws in a scorching break on “Girl Up the Stairs.” Girl problems once again prove a fertile fount for pop magic. Island hussy/muse, take a bow. DT

Martha Wainwright Martha Wainwright (Zoe)The other Wainwright child—sister of Rufus, daughter of Loudon III and Kate “The McGarrigles” McGarrigle, if you’re counting—comes forth and gives a spiritually bare and brash folk record that recalls Joni Mitchell crossed with early Tom Waits. Definitely not cut from the cloth of Rufus’s baroque pop records, Martha gives a cutting edge to the female singer-songwriter with incredible songwriting and emotional depth. TM

Kanye West Late Registration (Universal)In 2005, Kanye managed to avoid the sophomore slump, releasing a great follow-up to 2004’s College Dropout while proving his mouth was as big as his ego. He caused controversy during a live Hurricane Katrina relief concert—“George Bush doesn’t care about black people” is one of the year’s best lines. But there’s no arguing the talent he displays on Late Registration. TS

The White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan (V2)While starting out as the most unlikely crossover success since Trio, The White Stripes have fallen into the role of being saviours of the mainstream. Get Behind Me Satan sees the group explore their commitment to minimalism with an inspired new focus on percussive instruments. Truly timeless rock and roll. MC

Wintersleep Wintersleep (Dependent)Not to be confused with their eponymous debut. This album, which helped these local lads land the opening slot on Pearl Jam’s Newfoundland date, is as much an evolution from their debut as it is the same. Think Arcade Fire, only more alt-rock. TS

Wolf Parade Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop)Wolf Parade spent 2005 being the indie darling of critics worldwide. The full-length finally dropped and the buzz grew into a deafening roar. Fans of Modest Mouse will feel right at home thanks to producer Issac Brock. No apologies needed here. TS

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